Mary Blanche Howard
Roommate of Mary Ingalls at the Blind School in Vinton.
Miss Blanche Howard… possessed a sweet voice, and was a violinist of no mean ability. – The Webster City (Iowa) Herald, June 1910.
Although only identified as “Blanche” in the Little House books, Mary Blanche Howard was the full name of Mary Ingalls’ roommate at the Blind Asylum in Vinton, Iowa. Blanche was born in Hardin County, Iowa, on November 12, 1867, to Clara & John Howard. Born in Derbyshire, England, in 1833, the son of Amy and John Howard, John Howard married Clara J. Hammond on December 28, 1855, in Clinton, Iowa. Clara was the daughter of Martha and Alvin Hammond of New York. Following their marriage, the Howards settled on an 80-acre farm in Wall Lake Township in Wright County. The Howards had eight children, including: Walter (1857-1939), Emogene (1860-1934), Calvin (1862-1931), Blanche, Fannie (1871-1912), and Cecil (1873-1948).
In the spring of 1874, the Howards lost their farm due to non-payment of taxes, and they relocated to Webster City in neighboring Hamilton County, where John Howard worked as a carpenter. Almost completely blind since birth due to cataracts, Blanche was enrolled at the Blind School in Vinton on September 12, 1878, at age 10. Her first year of study included beadwork, piano, and choir. About the same time Blanche left home, her father began working as a stagecoach driver for Estes’ Webster City and Belmond Stage Line; he drove the 19 mile route between Webster City and Lund. John Howard died on February 14, 1879; his cause of death was lung fever.
To support the family, Clara Howard worked as a dressmaker in rooms at Hamilton House (a hotel) in Webster City. If Mary Ingalls spent a summer vacation with Blanche and her mother and siblings, it would probably have been at the Howard family home on Dubuque Street. The local papers often reported when Blanche left for school or returned home for vacation, but there has been no article found about Mary’s visit to Webster City in the 1880s. As Laura wrote in Little Town on the Prairie, Blanche lived closer to the blind school than the Ingallses. It was about 100 miles from Vinton to Webster City, but an additional 300 miles on to De Smet. Blanche didn’t attend school during the school year that ran from September 1882 – June 1883.
Although originally listed as a weak student both physically and mentally, Blanche was musically gifted, and excelled in both voice and violin studies, and at the end of the 1881-1882 year, she was noted as “smart.” Although she had already been at the blind school for three years when Mary Ingalls enrolled in 1881, Blanche and Mary were in the same class that year: Second Primary. After that year, Mary passed Blanche by one, then two levels. In Blanche’s first nine years of study (from ungraded and 1st Primary through the 9th grade), Blanche was listed as a student of beadwork, piano, choir, harmony, vocal, cane weaving, sewing, and fancy work. Academic classes included aritimetic, history, geography, and grammar. Her high school studies (from September 1888 to June 1892) and grades were as follows:
September 5, 1888 – June 12, 1889
Music 80 (Vocal, Harmony, Piano)
September 4, 1889 – June 11, 1890
Civil Government 90
September 3, 1890 – June 10, 1891
Civil Government 90-
Music 80- (Vocal, Harmony, Piano)
Physical Geography 80
September 2, 1891 – June 8, 1892
Natural History 80
U.S. History 80
Continuing at the Blind School for six more years of study after Mary Ingalls graduated in 1889, Blanche graduated from the Iowa College for the Blind on June 12, 1895, at age 22; there were 11 students in her graduating class. Notice of her graduation from the Webster City Tribune (June 14, 1895) is shown here, and it was also reported that her mother attended the ceremony. After graduation, Blanche returned to Webster City to live with her mother and new step-father. On April 25, 1894, Clara Howard had married widower Samuel Cyrus Eastman. Born in 1826 in Medina County, Ohio, Samuel had married Elizabeth Kidder in 1848, and the couple had two children. Samuel was a carpenter by trade but ran a butter and egg business in Webster City before moving to Hubbard, where Elizabeth Eastman died in 1892. In Webster City, he ran a fruit and vegetable business.
With her siblings married and no longer living at home, Blanche Howard and her mother and step-father moved to Seneca Street in Webster City, a short walk to the First Baptist Church, where Blanche was quite active in the Baptist Young People’s Union (BYPU) and Sunday School. Blanche and her mother and step-father traveled frequently to visit Blanche’s siblings or to attend; they also attended the Baptist State Convention at Iowa Falls several times. Gradually failing in health for years, Blanche died of heart failure on June 9, 1910. Her funeral was conducted from the Baptist Church, but her burial location is unknown. Blanche’s obituary in the Daily Freeman (Webster City) is shown above. Her obituary in the Webster City Herald of June 10, 1910, read:
Death of Miss Howard. Gradually failing in health for some time, Miss Blanche Howard, daughter of Mrs. S.C. Eastman, residing on Seneca Street, passed away Thursday, her demise resulting from heart failure. The deceased was forty-two years of age, and though afflicted from infancy with blindness, she possessed a cheerful disposition, viewing life, notwithstanding her affliction, in a most optimistic way. Miss Howard was a graduate of the Vinton school for the blind, and therein obtained a splendid education. She possessed a sweet voice, and was a violinist of no mean ability. The deceased was a character above reproach, an active worker in church circles, being for many years a member of the Baptist church. Her life was a most worthy one, and though sorely afflicted, she wrought much good among those with whom she mingled, by her patient, complacent character. The funeral was held Sunday afternoon from the Baptist church.
Samuel Eastman died at age 88 on June 22, 1914, in Webster City. Clara Eastman died the following year, on April 22, 1915.
Blanche (THGY 15, 20, 30)
Ma and Pa meet Mary’s roommate (LTP 10)